Native to Mexico, the papaya (Carica papaya) gets its name from the Maya páapay-ya which roughly translates as “mottled fruit.” The papaya is yet another staple food in the Mexico diet. Rich in papain, leaves and seeds are used to tenderize meat. The fruit is eaten raw, cooked and blended in fruit juices. The sap from the unripe fruit makes latex.
It is anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory. High in lycopene, papaya juice is often applied to sunburn and skin irritations to reduce inflammation. Papaya also is effective in reducing cancerous breast tumor growth.
Papaya seeds are natural antifungal agents. Dried seeds are often eaten to help in digestion. The seeds have a spicy flavor and are sometimes ground and used to season food as you would black pepper. They have found to be useful in the treatment of IBS and stomach ulcers.
The papaya is often prescribed in Mexico to treat parasites and is anti-protozoal. There are several remedies to expel internal parasites. One recipe calls for a mixture of juice, honey and coffee drank before breakfast. Another treatment is a tea made from the leaves drank 3 times a day for three days while ingesting a steady diet of the fruit. Yet a third remedy is to eat poached seeds with sap from an unripe fruit.
If your face is starting to wrinkle, eat more papaya and try a mashed papaya fruit mask! Papaya has been shown to reduce the depth of facial wrinkles
Note: The ripe fruit is safe for pregnant women to eat, however, the green fruit should be cooked first as it may cause contractions.
Mole (pronounced moe-lay) comes from the Nahuatl word mōlli (sauce) or chīlmōlli (chile sauce). There are some misconceptions here that mole is only the brown chocolate sauce that in Mexico is called mole poblano. As you will see, mole comes in quite a variety of delicious flavors, all of which have chiles rather than chocolate as the common ingredient.
There are several legends about the origin of mole. One is that the nuns at the Convent of Santa Rosa is Puebla were in a lather about the visit of the archbishop. They rustled up what ingredients they had on hand and dumped it all in a pot to simmer. They killed the old turkey wandering around the yard too. When the archbishop arrived, they served poor ol’ Tom turkey smothered in the sauce made from leftovers. When asked, the nuns declared that they had made “mole” (a mix).
Then there is the legend that the monk Fray Pascual invented the dish, again to serve to the archbishop, or maybe it was the viceroy, there seem to be several versions. While the monk was preparing the meal, a sudden wind knocked over the spices into the pots where the turkey was simmering magically creating mole.
Where doubt sets in is in the use of chocolate in the sauce. Both the Aztecs and Mayans considered chocolate sacred. Therefore, it was reserved for the highest level priests and royalty. Thus, to include chocolate in a dish for the common people would have been considered sacrilege. That doesn’t mean that there were NO sauces with chocolate, only that they were not served to those who were not priests or royalty. (See Chocolate) Perhaps Cortes was fortunate enough to be served chocolate mole as he was considered a reincarnation of the god Quetzalcoatl and the recipe got out. We may never know.
Up until recently, mole was the standard dish eaten at celebrations of all social economic classes in Mexico. The expressions Ir a un mole (to go to where there is mole) means to attend a wedding, one of the traditional ceremonies that customarily served mole. Nowadays, the upper classes have stopped preparing and eating it, preferring imported foodstuff to traditional at their parties. This is yet another loss in the ongoing processes of colonization. Language, food, and customs are insidiously being replaced. Women no longer learn the art of cooking mole from their mothers. Mothers no longer teach their daughters.
In a few remaining places, the preparation of mole is still a community event, usually in honor of a patron saint or local holiday. In these communities, each person involved has a part to play in the production, much like the tamaladas that gather to make tamales (See Tamales). There is always one person, usually a woman, who is given the honorary position of molera, the head chef. It is she who makes the final determination on how much of each ingredient is to be used.
That is no easy task. Mole poblano has about 20 different ingredients. Oaxacan moles can have more than 30. Recipes are approximate, variations are practically limitless. But, under the direction of the molera, the ritual of the mole is not lost.
In general, when making mole:
Mole ingredients can be classified into 4 distinct groups–the chiles, sour ingredients (like tomatillos), sweet ingredients (like fruit and sugar) and thickeners (nuts or tortillas). Ingredients are roasted and ground into a powder or paste. This is mixed with water or broth and simmered while being stirred constantly until it thickens. Chocolate, if included, is added at the end of the cooking process. It’s always served over something, meat, poultry, eggs or rice.
It’s important that those making mole not become angry, otherwise the mole will boil over or spoil.
The paste or powder can be prepared separately and often can be purchased to reduce the steps in making this unique dish. Interestingly enough, these powders have such a strong scent that they have been registered as explosives at the Mexico City airport. This strong flavoring is the basis of the expression “en su mero mole.” Mole is an acquired taste and to be in your own mole, is similar to the English expression to be or not to be one’s cup of tea.
Below, I’ve provided a link to recipes of a number of mole sauces.
Moles with chocolate
Mole poblano is the most well-known mole. It is considered one of the national dishes of Mexico. It is often served with turkey when prepared for weddings, birthdays and baptisms. During the Christmas holiday season, it is often served over shrimp garnished with rosemary.
Mole coloradito is made to be served over pork, chicken or beef and it is a red brick color. It is a specialty of Oaxaca.
Mole negro also known as mole oaxaqueño is one of 7 distinctive types of mole made in Oaxaca. Mole negro is served with chicken, turkey or pig head. It has up to 34 ingredients and 6 types of chiles. It also has bananas, gingerbread, almonds, peanuts, avocado leaf, cinnamon and chocolate among other ingredients.
Mole xiqueño is the specialty of Xico, a town in the state of Veracruz. It’s a fruity mole with raisins, xoconostle, bananas and nuts in addition to the chocolate.
Moles without chocolate
Chirmole, also known as chilmole or relleno negro is a dark mole and is common in Yucatan.
Huaxmole, also known as guaxmole or mole de guaje is made with guaje seeds, also known as huaxin, cacalas or cascalhuite, which taste like garlic. It was traditionally prepared for holy day festivals and served over goat meat.
Mole de caderas also known as mole de chivo is a specialty of the states Oaxaca and Puebla. It is meant to be served over goats that have been fed large quantities of salt, giving the meat a distinctive flavor. It is traditionally prepared during the annual goat butchering festival, usually sometime between October and December. During the festival, there is a “danza de la matanza” which ends with the sacrificial killing of a male goat. There is also an altar prepared by the butchers who make offerings and prayers so that the goat harvest is at least as good as if not better than the previous year.
Mole Michoacan. This red mole is prepared with pumpkin seeds and they must not have shell nor salt so the final flavor is not altered and is a speciality of Michoacan.
Mole chichilo from Oaxaca is served with beef and comes in negro (black) and rojo (red) depending on the manner the chiles are prepared. Of the seven specialty moles of Oaxaca, mole rojo is the spices.
Mole prieto, also known as tlilmolli, comes from the state of Tlaxcala. It has traditionally been part of the ritual festivity in honor of the goddess Toci, patron saint of textiles and health. It prehispanic rituals, this mole was served with deer, turkey or Xoloitzcuintle, a Mexican hairless dog bred specifically for food. Nowadays, it is served with pork. During the pre-festival preparations, a bottle of liquor is buried and a cross made of nopales and chilpotle is placed over the spot. This is done to prevent the mole from boiling and spoiling.
Mole verde, yet another mole from Oaxaca, uses green tomatoes, parsley, and green chiles to give it its distinctive herb flavoring. It’s often served over chicken with chayote, green beans, and white beans.
Pipián is a peanut or pumpkin seed sauce served over chicken. It comes in rojo (red) and verde (green). Pipian verde is also made with ajonjoli (sesame seeds) or pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
Mole tamaulipeco, from the state of Tamaulipas, is served over chicken stuffed with olives. Ingredients include onion, garlic, olives, raisin, tomato, tomatillo, cinnamon, thyme, parsley and capers among others. It’s often served with white rice with chiles and carrots in vinegar.
Mole de olla is more of a soup rather than a sauce. It is made of xoconostle, squash, green beans, corn, potato, chambarete (beef shank) simmered into a broth of chile guajillo and chile pasilla, seasoned with garlic, onion, and epazote. It is served with pieces of chopped serrano pepper and lemon.
Mole de panza is cow stomach stew, also known as menudo. Mole de panza uses cilantro rather than oregano as seasoning.
Legend has it that the god Quetzalcoatl stole and gave the plant that provided a special drink meant only for the gods to his chosen people, the Toltecs. He asked Tlaloc, the rain god, to water this plant and Xochiquetzal, the goddess of fertility and vegetation, to tend to it. Quetzalcoatl picked the pods, roasted the kernels and taught the Toltec women to grind it to a fine powder. The women mixed it with water and whipped it to a bitter, frothy drink called chocolatl. Such was its sacredness, it could only be enjoyed by the priests and royalty.
When the gods discovered Quetzalcoatl’s theft, they were angry and plotted the destruction of Quetzalcoatl and his people. Quetzalcoatl’s enemy Tezcatlipoca came to earth on a spider’s thread and disguised himself as a pulque vendor. He came across a worried Quetzalcoatl and offered him the drink of happiness, the fermented agave drink. Quetzalcoatl drank until he was drunk. He did the happy, happy joy dance outside his temple. His people didn’t know what to think of his strange antics and lost respect for their god. Eventually, Quetzalcoatl passed out. (See Maguey)
The next morning, Quetzalcoatl woke up with a heavenly hangover. When he realized that his people had abandoned him, he left, heading towards the evening star. He saw that the gods had transformed the chocolatl plant into the agave plant which had intoxicated him. He walked all the way to the sea. Just before he left the shore, he planted the seed that he held in his hand, the seed that he had stolen from the gods. This seed became the cacao plant and the last gift Quetzalcoatl gave to his people.
Or so the story goes.
Blood, maize, and cacao play a hand in the creation of mankind in the story of Ixcacao, a Mayan fertility goddess.
Cacao beans ground to chocolate can be traced back to the Olmec civilization, about 1000 BCE. As the story above illustrates, chocolate was considered just sacred as maize. Mayan artifacts often picture maize and cacao gods together. During rituals that involved the cacao gods, priests would lance their earlobes and cover the cacao with their blood as a tribute to the gods.
This is a representation found on the sarcophagus of an 8th-century Mayan ruler, Pakal of Palenque. It shows Pakal’s mother, Lady Sak K’uk being reborn as a cacao tree.
Even the trees themselves were considered sacred bridges between heaven and earth. In especially holy circumstances, a deceased ruler might even be reborn as a cacao tree.
Cacao was also an important part of the marriage ritual among the Mayan. A man who wished to marry would invite his intended bride’s father to his home. He would serve his future father-in-law a hot chocolate beverage as they discussed the marriage arrangement. The bride price and dowry were often paid in cacao beans as well.
The Aztecs collected their tributes from conquered groups in the form of cacao and often used it as a currency. So valuable was the cacao, that one hundred beans could buy a canoe full of fresh water or a turkey hen.
During rituals to appease Quetzalcoatl, the Aztecs would give the intended sacrifice a gourd full of chocolate mixed with the blood of the previous victim to calm their nerves. Another, less icky drink, made with chocolate called chilate, was believed to give the drinker strength, and thus included in soldiers’ rations, and to have aphrodisiac properties.
The Aztec ruler Moctezuma II, as royalty, often enjoyed the sacred drink. Bernal Diaz del Castillo, a foot soldier with Hernan Cortes, wrote his observations “From time to time they served him [Montezuma] in cups of pure gold a certain drink made from cacao. It was said that it gave one power over women, but this I never saw. I did see them bring in more than fifty large pitchers of cacao with froth in it, and he drank some of it, the women serving with great reverence.”
The Spaniards weren’t overly fond of the frothy, bitter drink. Jose de Acosta described it as
“Loathsome to such as are not acquainted with it, having a scum or froth that is very unpleasant taste. Yet it is a drink very much esteemed among the Indians, where with they feast noble men who pass through their country. The Spaniards, both men and women that are accustomed to the country are very greedy of this Chocolate. They say they make diverse sorts of it, some hot, some cold, and some temperate, and put therein much of that “chili”; yea, they make paste thereof, the which they say is good for the stomach and against the catarrh.”
An Aztec woman pouring chocolate to make it frothy as pictured in the Tudela Codex. The Aztecs drank their chocolate beverage cold.
Remember, whatever recipe you use, the best chocolate drink is made in a clay olla (pot), mixed with a molinillo, and served in a clay cup.
Chocolate also has its place in Mexican dichos (sayings). After giving birth, a woman “merece el chocolate” (deserves chocolate). It is customary for a new mother to receive a cup of hot chocolate every morning for 40 days to aid in recovery. (See Candlemas) (See Three Kings Day)
One of the most famous Mexican sayings is “estar como agua para chocolate.” Literally, it means to be like water used in preparing chocolate which is HOT. Passionate, angry, boiling over with emotions.
Another expression you might come across is “darle una sopa de su propio chocolate.” Literally, it means to give someone a cup of their own chocolate. Remember, chocolate in Mexico has traditionally been prepared as a drink. It was bitter, not sweet and often used as a remedy for a variety of ailments. So, this expression would be the same as “to give someone a taste of their own medicine”.
Cacao is used as a base for other traditional Mexican delights, like mole. Stay tuned for more information!